Nexus: The Jupiter Incident
Though a strategy game at its core, Nexus: The Jupiter Incident is a lot more about micromanaging epic space battles than controlling resource points and churning out disposable rush units. To this end the game does a great job of focusing on its strengths, such as providing awe-inspiring battles between capital ships. But while a greater emphasis is placed on methodical planning than frantic clicking (you can even pause the game and issue orders at your own pace), Nexus still falls short of becoming the ultimate go-to of space combat tacticians, if only because the campaign misses out on its full strategic potential.
A True Cinematic Experience
But there’s plenty of good to be had from just about everywhere, none more so than the visuals. Hungarian-based production house Mithis has done a tremendous job of conveying the epic, cinematic and awe-inspiring feel of space combat like few games have done before. Seeing two or more ships taking turns blasting each other with high energy weapons is quite spectacular, as are their explosive outcomes when said ships lose their hit points. But every other visual facet of the game is impressive, starting with the ship design, and ending with the many planets and nebulae surrounding you.
The nature of space is finely modeled as well – things tend to keep flying with no gravity or air resistance to slow them down, so ships have thrusters equipped on all sides to counter the forces of inertia and to service pitch and yaw movements. You have no direct control over them, however, as the AI handles the finer points of navigation (quite competently so), and you barely have to click on a destination and watch them ships fly. The game is unusual for making use of all three spatial planes – there’s no artificial snap to an invisible, horizontal plane (as in the case of Star Trek Armada) but the interface is so nicely done that this potentially confusing caveat is handled marvelously well, and it never much gets in your way.
Missions are handled in a linear manner and involve quite a detailed storyline, as presented via numerous videos, ingame dialogue or countless journal entries awash with sci-fi jargon and hypothetical future conflicts. You initially control a single ship and engage in simple tutorial-style exercises for the first four or five missions, but the story soon picks up once you discover and commandeer an alien vessel and further involve yourself in a larger human vs alien struggle.
The amount of input required on your part is initially sparse – you usually click a command icon and watch the AI do its thing for a few minutes – but the action gets more frantic and tactically complex as you gain control of more and more ships and weapons.Your fleet can be outfitted with better guns and gear with each mission, and you get quite a few strategic choices on how to approach a given situation.
Armchair Space General
Rather than pummeling thick hulls, you could target ship components and slowly disarm and disable an enemy vessel (which is sometimes faster than destroying them outright). Support ships play a major role in space combat in Nexus. While the larger, more heavily armed battleships can be very useful, a couple of quick destroyers can cause them some severe headaches. In addition players can equip their ships with commando units for boarding parties and fighter squadrons. Fighters range from the nimble and quick standard fighters to heavy bombers used to destroy enemy components. Even with all of these options, things balance out fairly well in the end and there’s no surefire strategy that always works.
Oddly enough you also get full control of a realistically-scaled 3D astronomical map which you can use to browse through individual planets, moons and star fleets between missions. It’s a neat feature but one that otherwise serves no real tactical purpose due to the linear nature of the campaign.
One has to wonder what Nexus would have looked like if it involved a freeform strategic element instead of the packet of canned missions driving the campaign – as a veritable Total War set in space, you would scrutinize a very dynamic cosmic neighborhood bursting with competing factions, sending fleets, attacking planetary defenses and whatnot – I don’t know about you, but I would have proffered this sort of gameplay to the story-driven campaign, as it would have given the game a more pronounced strategic element. As it is there’s little replay value beyond the first run, and the astronomical 3D map, while being a neat education tool, is pretty pointless.
What else is there to say? If you’re looking for a gorgeous, fun if not too strategically deep space shooter then this is the real deal.
System Requirements: Pentium III 1Ghz, 128 MB RAM, 1.4 GB HDD, 32 MB Video, Win98